College faculty gets chance to win back benefits

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(Host) The Legislature is set to give the Vermont State College faculty one more chance to retain early retirement benefits.

But Governor Jim Douglas doesn’t like the provision. He says it’s wrong for the Legislature to get involved in the labor dispute.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) By law, the Legislature has the final authority over state college labor contracts. The power is rarely used, but this year House and Senate negotiators on the annual budget bill have agreed to send the controversial retirement program to binding arbitration.

This gives the college faculty another chance to win back the early retirements benefits that the college administration wants to phase out.

Dawn Carleton is an assistant professor of English at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. She has multiple sclerosis and planned her life and career around being able to take early retirement at age fifty-five. Carleton is glad that lawmakers got involved in the labor dispute.

(Carleton) “There is no benefit to the Vermont State Colleges in doing away with a promise that has been made to people and that has attracted people over many years into the system.”

(Dillon) But Governor Jim Douglas is firmly opposed to the state college provision. His staff is researching whether the state can continue to spend money in the new fiscal year if he vetoes the budget bill.

(Douglas) “I think it’s important for me to make clear how strongly I feel about this. This collective bargaining process has played out through negotiation, through mediation, through ultimately a decision by the labor relations board. I believe it would be a serious mistake for the Legislature to inject itself on behalf of one side, or the other.”

(Dillon) But Dawn Carleton, the assistant professor, says the Legislature should have a role to play. She points out that Jim Douglas had a much different view when he was a young lawmaker in 1977.

(Carleton) “The Legislature is supposed to be involve, and not just because the Legislature has final responsibility for protecting the quality of the Vermont State Colleges, but because statute establishes that the Legislature is the final arbiter of the contract with the Vermont State Colleges faculty. And that actually was established in 1977 by a committee that was chaired by Jim Douglas.

(Dillon) Douglas, who’s also a state college trustee, says he’s in a different role nowadays.

He also says the college faculty will have another chance to negotiate before the retirement benefits are eliminated.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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